The Washington Post reports on a new FBI investigation into contract fraud involving an Air Force project run out of Pensacola AFB. Prosecutors focused on at least one Congressional earmark of $8 million for the project, which funded not the stated purpose of the project but a series of firms connected to the Congressman who issued the earmark. The new allegations bring a series of corruption probes closer to John Murtha than ever before:
When an Air Force command in north Florida sought new battlefield technologies, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) steered millions in federal dollars its way to hire defense contractors.
The research effort at the Pensacola Air Force base fell apart, however, when investigators found evidence that it was used to improperly pay a series of companies linked to Murtha. A handful of defense firms were paid for work that was never done or not called for in the contracts. Some of the companies involved, based in Wyoming, Florida and Murtha’s district in Pennsylvania, had hidden owners, prosecutors allege; one was secretly owned by the Air Force official who helped approve the payments.
As prosecutors reveal new details of their criminal probe into the $8 million earmark that Murtha arranged for the Air Force project, one familiar player is never mentioned by authorities. Several of the companies had hired the lobbying firm of the lawmaker’s brother, Robert C. “Kit” Murtha.
Today, one of Kit Murtha’s earliest clients has agreed to tell the government what he did and the crimes he said he saw committed as the lead contractor on the Murtha-orchestrated project. Richard “Rick” Ianieri, former chief executive of Coherent Systems International, is expected to plead guilty to taking kickbacks and preparing fraudulent invoices. Ianieri, a Pennsylvania entrepreneur, saw his business grow dramatically after hiring Kit Murtha’s firm, KSA Consulting.
Last week, it looked like Ianieri could be singing. Now we have confirmation. As the Post reports, Ianieri had an inside seat at the confluence of corruption:
Several years ago, Ianieri told the news media that he had selected Kit Murtha’s lobbying firm on the advice of Murtha’s chief of staff. Federal prosecutors in Florida charge that Ianieri helped an Air Force contract manager, Mark O’Hair, pay five companies — including Coherent’s fellow KSA clients Gensym and VidiaFusion — nearly $2 million that they should not have received.
Prosecutors charge that Gensym and VidiaFusion collected $300,000 and $274,000, respectively, for purported software for the communications system, known as “Ground Mobile Gateway.” Authorities say their work consisted of a few compact discs that stayed locked in a Coherent Systems closet.
Gensym lists as its North America headquarters the same Rockville address and office suite as KSA Consulting’s offices.
Thus far, the feds have not attempted to charge Murtha with a role in the corruption, but they can afford to take their time. As Murtha’s pals all start to look at serious jail time, they’ll do what Ianieri did: sing. Eventually, it will lead back to either or both Kit and John Murtha. The scheme wouldn’t exist at all without Murtha’s prodigious earmarks. John Murtha’s cash bequests from the Treasury wound up enriching his brother and all of his friends, and there’s no way that happened without Murtha himself being aware of it. The only other explanation would be that Murtha is so much of an idiot that he got fleeced by his own brother and utterly failed to do his due diligence before writing millions of dollars worth of checks to crooks.
I’d like to see Murtha offer that explanation as a reason why his constituents should return him to office in 2010. I suspect that Murtha may decide to retire first, though, especially if anyone else begins singing.